Online symposium offers techniques to defeat Assisted Suicide


PROVIDENCE — On Saturday, Feb. 19, pro-life advocates organized an online symposium to discuss techniques to counteract the Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act. Such a bill has been before the Rhode Island Legislature for the past 20 years and would allow access to physician-assisted suicide to Rhode Island residents.
The “Defeating Assisted Suicide: Rhode Island Coalition Training Day” symposium, organized by the Rhode Island Coalition Against Assisted Suicide and the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, was hosted by Dr. Joe Butera, professor of philosophy at Providence College, and Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, and was moderated by Lisa Church, professor of finance at Rhode Island College.
The proposed legislation states that medical doctors “shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability or professional disciplinary action” if they prescribe life-ending medications to a terminally ill patient if the patient is over 18 years of age, requests such life-ending substances of their own free will, is capable of making an informed decision, and administers the substance themselves. Such a law contradicts the Catholic Church’s position against both euthanasia and suicide, as articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph #2276-2283.
The keynote speaker, disability rights activist John Kelly, spoke on the underlying hypocrisy of the pro-assisted suicide movement, stating that many of the arguments for assisted suicide — the right to personal autonomy and “death with dignity” — were in fact ways of distracting from a distinct set of priorities, including a fear of suffering on the part of the social elites and prejudice against the disabled.
“I would say that this is a social justice issue that cuts across party lines,” Kelly stated during the final comments, and that this and similar bills represent a “path to a very dark place” where a certain select few “make arguments about who deserves to live.”
Kelly and Barbara Lyons of the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, highlighted statistics that underscore other issues with physician assisted suicide, including the fact that many members of ethnic minorities and the poor are overwhelmingly opposed to physician assisted suicide and they expressed fear that the proposed legislation may lead to abuse and the perpetuation of oppression against these groups. Lyons, and Denise Burke of the Alliance Defending Freedom, discussed legal problems built into the proposed legislation, in particular how it does little to prevent coercion of terminally-ill patients by doctors and others.
The symposium also featured Dr. Paul Gondreau, professor of theology at Providence College, and his wife Christiana. Dr. Gondreau shared the theoretical framework for defending human dignity, explaining that “we really have to insist that the pure and simple foundation for human dignity or the value of human life is just the fact of being human. It is not to act as a human or to look human, but simply to be human, full stop.”
Mrs. Gondreau followed this with a personal reflection on their family’s experiences of raising a child with special needs. She explained that being disabled or suffering with a debilitating disease or injury does not in itself prevent one from being able to enjoy life or live in a meaningful way, using her son as an example.
“If someone from the outside just looked at him, and didn’t know him [they would say], ‘Oh, he can’t talk.’ Yes, he can. ‘He doesn’t understand what we’re saying.’ Yes, he does. ‘He doesn’t have hopes and dreams.’ Yes, he does.” She also went on to note that caring for a disabled child, like caring for the terminally ill, instills a sense of compassion and selflessness into the caretakers. Mrs. Gondreau emphasized that this is something the world was in desperate need of.
Other panelists also spoke of practical ways to oppose this bill. Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung (District 15), Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson (District 21), and Senator Leonidas Raptakis (District 33) suggested the following: writing letters to the editor, contacting local elected officials, and giving testimony before the legislature. Testimonies or letters to the editor should be to the point, focusing on certain key elements of the issue, and any data referenced should be properly cited. Opponents should avoid a partisan approach that relies too heavily on religious or ideologically specific arguments against physician assisted suicide. Personal testimonies that appeal to the widest possible audience would have the greatest impact. They noted that the average citizen should not fear speaking before the legislature, as those in the halls of Congress have a desire to hear directly from their constituents.

If you would like to get more involved in the fight against physician assisted suicide, you can visit the website of the Patient’s Rights Action Fund at You can also visit the website for the Rhode Island Right to Life at